Napa vs. Sonoma: Dining Done Slow and Simple

A mere 10 miles separate two towns with similar climate, industry and culture. But the restaurant scene is worlds apart.

It’s no secret we Sonomans have a certain amount of pride and resistance from our uppity neighbors to the east, and after spending a few days in Napa I remember why.

The past few nights I've been forced to leave my rustic mountain top home to “pet-sit” in a subdivision in Napa. To say the least, I’m homesick. 

Yes, the common generalizations I hear around town are confirmed regarding the Sonoma/Napa divide. Obviously Napa is significantly more expensive, there are longer lines and they have a more formal clientele.  But when it comes to the overall dinning experience, the old clichés fall flat.

Eating in Sonoma is not a contest - crisp linens are irrelevant and servers here don’t need bow ties to make us feel special.  Sonoma's criteria for a superior dining experience are simple: a smiling face, a slower pace and food that (for the most part) is cultivated by our neighbors. 

But the relaxed ambiance is only part of the beauty of Sonoma’s culinary culture; the layout of the city changes the vibe.  Most restaurants in Sonoma are neighbors – the downtown dining scene circles the Plaza, with most spots sitting just a few steps away from one another. Chefs, waiters and restaurateurs know each other; they dine and drink in their competitor’s establishments. Somewhere along the way, we’ve become a team.

Not to say healthy competition isn’t prevalent, but I think most Sonoma spots strive to represent our small geographic area as best we can to the world. And the community-minded spirit infuses the food: Napa keep your pretension, celebrity chiefs and celebrity prices – I’ll trade you for a handmade empanada, a simple bowl of ravioli or a hot dog any day.

Eating in Sonoma, contributes greatly to the big thing I love about this town – its simplicity. A long dinner in town and a slow walk around the plaza to digest is my idea of a perfect evening.

So let’s celebrate why we live here and try something new. At dinner time there is no reason to leave Sonoma. The best is in our backyard.


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